The Agency for Safety and Health has just pulled the popular sleeping drug Noctran off the French market. They’ve linked it to neurological and psychiatric disorders.
Officials say they’ve “reconsidered the risk / benefit of this drug and voted against it.”
But the decision comes 23 years after the drug first went on sale. That’s 23 years of public neurological and psychiatric damage…while agency officials “reconsidered the risk.”
Noctran isn’t available in the US. But there a plenty of sleeping drugs which are…and ongoing research suggests they pose risks which are just as dangerous…or worse.
“Sleeping pills (are) hazardous to your health,” says Dr. Daniel Kripke. “People who take (them) die sooner than people who don’t.”
Dr. Kripke is a Harvard grad who’s led sleep research at the University of California San Diego (UCSD) for over 30 years. He conducted the first bright light trials at the San Diego VA Medical Center in 1981…and has specialized in sleep research ever since.
And he says these drugs aren’t just risky…they don’t even work.
“People who take (them) hope (they) will increase their sleep enough to make them more energetic in the day,” he says. “They hope that sleeping pills will improve their long-term health. Sleeping pill effects are just the opposite of what people hope.”
And a recent National Institutes of Health study supports this. Researchers found they only give you 11 minutes of extra sleep each night.
Dr. Kripke says that’s not much payoff for all that risk. But he says they do deliver a big payoff…for the drug companies that make them.
So… who really benefits from these drugs? The people who take them…or the people that make them? We’ll answer these questions as we uncover the truth behind sleeping pills.
Popular Prescription for Sleep
Sleeping pills are nothing new. Back in the 80s doctors prescribed a class of sleeping pills called benzodiazepines. The most famous brand was called Halcion. But it was also known as triazolam.
As more and more people took Halcion…frightening reports about their side effects began making headlines. And in time countries like the UK banned them. (More about this in a moment.)
That opened up a new avenue for the drug makers…to create safer—and more expensive—drugs.
So they developed a new class of pills called nonbenzodiazepines. You might know them better as ”Z” drugs.
· Ambien (and its generic version Zolpidem)
· Lunesta (and its generic version zopiclone)
· Sonata (and its generic version zaleplon)
These new drugs were advertised as safer…but they were a lot more costly. And they’ve generated billions for the people who make them.
Generating Happy Dreams of Wealth for Drug Makers
Sleeping pills are big business.
The people who make them spent over $600 million advertising them…in 2006 alone.
But it’s money well spent. That same year…doctors wrote 44 million prescriptions for them. And sales of Ambien and Lunesta alone exceeded $3 billion. (v)
In fact…Americans now spend $4.5 billion on sleeping pills each year.
But it’s not really surprising that they’re such big business.
The University of Pittsburgh published a report recently that shows 25 percent of older people suffer from insomnia.
And about 15 percent of all seniors use sleeping drugs according to a report in Human Psychopharmacology.
“What’s really tragic is that most seniors end up being prescribed sleeping pills for insomnia,” says Dr. Andrew Gottlieb.
Dr. Gottlieb trained at Yale and received his postdoctoral fellowship at Stanford Medical School. He’s operated his own successful private practice in San Jose, CA for over 20 years.
He says these drugs are costly…and don’t even work.
So Sleeping Pills Don’t Actually Work?
“Clear data shows modern sleeping pills have minimal effects,” says Dr. Gottlieb.
He says people who take them…are fooled into thinking they work better than they actually do.
And as strange as that may sound, there’s plenty of evidence to back it up.
There are several sleeping pill studies which monitor how much sleep people actually get under lab conditions. Researchers have found that people think they get an extra hour or two of sleep…when they’re only getting an extra 10 minutes.
The same studies show these drugs are better than a placebo. But not by much…just 10 minutes or so.
The National Institutes of Health study showed how limited those benefits were. People got to sleep about 12 minutes faster…and slept for an extra 11 minutes.
”People seem to be getting relief from sleeping pills, but does getting 25 minutes of sleep really give you all that relief?” asks Dr. Wallace Mendelson. He’s the former director of the sleep disorders unit at the University of Chicago.
He agrees that people don’t get much more sleep. They just think they do.
“They change a person’s perception of their state of consciousness,” he says.
And many sleep experts agree with this.
They say that there’s a condition called anterograde amnesia…and it bridges the gap between how much sleep people get. And what they think they get.
When people take sleeping pills, it affects their ability to form clear memories. So when they wake, they forget they couldn’t get to sleep.
Sleep experts say this isn’t far-fetched. There are many links between sleep and amnesia. Children are a clear example. They can wake up terrified by nightmares. But they’ve forgotten all about them in the clear light of the next day.
So you may think you’re getting a lot more sleep. But sleeping pills only actually buy you a couple of extra minutes each night. Yet some doctors say this is good enough.
”If you forget how long you lay in bed tossing and turning, in some ways that’s just as good as sleeping,” argues Dr. Gary Richardson.
He’s a sleep specialist at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit. He’s also a paid consultant and speaker for the drug makers.
But Dr. Gottlieb says that doesn’t make any sense at all. He says the actual sleep benefits are non-existent. And he says it’s worse than that. Because while they may do you no real good…he says they can certainly do you plenty of harm.
Risks and Side Effects
“The hazards of sleeping pills in older adults include cognitive impairment, poor balance, and an increased risk of falling,” says Dr. Gottlieb.
And because so many people who take these drugs are seniors…falling is a serious issue. A simple fall can seriously reduce an older person’s long-term quality of life.
One recent study put this to the test.
It was headed up by Dr. Kenneth Wright for the University of Colorado. And he published his findings in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.
He compared two groups of seniors taking sleeping pills in a placebo-controlled study. One group took Ambien each night. The other group took a placebo.
Each morning the subjects had to take a simple balance test a couple of hours after waking. Every time, about 60 percent of the Ambien group failed the test. No one in the placebo group failed it.
“They are walking more slowly and they are more unstable,” reported Dr. Wright.
He also tested them with simple math questions to gauge their cognitive function. Again…the Ambien group performed 50 percent worse than the placebo group.
“You are much groggier, much more impaired,” says Dr. Wright. “More than twice as bad. You are slower and you can’t think as clearly.”
He further looked at how these drugs affect younger adults. They fared better than the seniors…but almost 30 percent of the Ambien group still failed the balance test.
“One of the things about sleep medication is they act on a nerve chemical in the brain called GABA,” says Dr. Wright.
That’s because GABA affects sleep. But Dr. Wright notes that it also affects coordination and cognition.
And there are increasing reports about other ways that these drugs are affecting people.
In one report a graphic artist thought she’d had a restful night’s sleep…but realized her wrist was broken from a fall while sleepwalking.
In other stories people pop sleeping pills and go to bed. Then they wake up with food in their bed…and no memory of preparing or eating it.
And there are many more stories of people taking sleeping pills…getting up…and driving their cars…while still sleeping the whole time.
For some of these people it’s just a nightmare scenario which ends with them turning their cars around and driving back home. But many end in serious or deadly accidents.
In fact there are so many of these accidents that scientists are doing studies on them.
Forensic toxicologist Laura Liddicoat recently reported on several sleep driving incidents caused by Ambien.
And the University of Minnesota conducted a study that linked Ambien to sleep eating.
The FDA’s director for neurology Dr. Russell Katz has reviewed dozens of reports on the subject.
“People get up, they take their car keys and they go drive,” concedes Dr. Katz. “As you might imagine, that might be dangerous.”
And it’s prompted him to take action…by asking the drug makers to put a warning label on the pills. So far though…he hasn’t recalled any of these drugs. Including ones that have been banned in Europe for over 20 years. (More about this in just a moment.)
But these drugs also have other side effects.
· Facial Swelling
· Chest Pains
· Decreased Sex Drive
And these side effects are nothing new. There’s a long history of sleeping pills causing serious side effects.
History of Dangerous Side Effects
Halcion is a prime example of a sleeping pill that’s long been linked to risky side effects.
People would take it on plane trips to help them sleep. But when they got to their location they’d still be under the influence of the drugs. They’d sleepwalk off the plane…and wake to find themselves lost in unknown cities. There were so many reports about this that the condition became known as traveler’s amnesia. And it was so common that some countries pulled it off the market.
In 1991 the UK banned it because overwhelming data showed it caused serious side effects. Those side effects included…
· Reduced Coordination
· Reduced Cognition
· Blurred Vision
The following year the FDA reviewed the drug…but gave it a clean bill of health.
But how can that be possible? How can one country ban a drug based on data…and another country review the same data…but approve its use?
The FDA did a lengthy review of the drug and concluded the drug was safe…if it was taken in smaller doses.
They based their decision on a small study…using very few people. They requested that the drug maker conduct a follow up study to put their theory to the test…in the years ahead.
They instructed the drug maker to put a warning label on it…reducing the recommendation dosage.
Despite the negative press…Halcion remains on the US market 20 years later. In 2008 the FDA responded to ongoing negative reports by telling the drug maker to add further warnings to the label. But it remains on sale.
And because the dosage has been reduced…it’s hard to say if it does any good whatsoever.
However some doctors say sleeping pills get bad press.
You’ve already heard from Dr. Richardson.
Another defender is Dr. Karl Doghramji. He’s a researcher at Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia. He’s also a paid consultant for the drug companies that make them.
“We do find patients who, when they take them, have a high level of satisfaction,’ says Dr. Doghramji.
But when pushed to be specific about benefits he admits…
”Sleeping pills do not increase sleep time,” concedes Dr. Doghramji. “Nor do they decrease wake time dramatically.”
How You Can Combat Insomnia
So…sleeping pills don’t really work?
”The problem is, there is no ideal hypnotic,” says Dr. Manisha Witmans. She’s a sleep medicine specialist at the University of Alberta’s Evidence-Based Practice Center.
”The magic pill for sleep has not been invented yet,” she says.
So are there other ways to combat insomnia?
Dr. Gottlieb says there definitely are…but “there isn’t a powerful drug lobby for sleeping pills pushing (them).”
“There (are) no powerful corporate interest backing them,” he says. “There are no sales reps going to doctors’ offices offering free samples for doctors to pass out to their patients.”
But that doesn’t mean they don’t exist.
In fact…there’s plenty of evidence that shows there are natural ways to fight insomnia</strong>. Ways that also safe and effective.